The Idea

Hacking Instagram Stories in the name of classic literature.

Dogs. Palm trees. Karaoke. An old acquaintance doing their weekly meal prep. Instagram Stories offers a lot. But, until recently, it hadn’t offered some of the greatest stories ever told. The New York Public Library set out to change that, uploading entire works of classic literature to the Stories platform and giving readers everywhere the chance to sit down with a great book. While many might see social media and technology as the sworn enemy of an institution like the library, The New York Public Library disagrees. Instead, it can be seen as a perfect way to further their mission, “to advance knowledge by providing free and open access to materials and information.”

By embracing the changing times, we were able to get hundreds of thousands of readers to crack open a timeless novel. Proving the best stories will always stay with us. No matter how many gym selfies people are posting.

 
 
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The Books

Each book so far in the Insta Novels Collection has come from the public domain. But despite being at least 70 years old, they have themes, ideas and characters which all feel incredibly current. Transformation, identity, representation, gaslighting. Those are just some of the themes that appear in these pages. Knowing that these works of the past have something to say to the present, we worked with artists and studios who are all native to the Instagram platform. The brief was simple: If this book were to be released today, and the cover could move, what would that be?

The design for each novel takes a contemporary approach to make the text feel especially relevant, both to Instagram and to the 21st century. Each book was animated by a different artist, each with an unexpected and conceptual take.

 
 

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Animation: Magoz
Instagram Followers: 61K

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Insta novels

The Yellow Wallpaper
Animation: Buck
Instagram Followers: 189K

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The Metamorphosis
Animation: César Pelizer
Instagram Followers: 15K

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The Raven
Animation: Psyop
Instagram Followers: 27.4K

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A Christmas Carol
Animation: Caitlin McCarthy
Instagram Followers: 5.5K

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The Page Design

Overall, the series remains grounded by using a consistent typeface and placement for the title. Making the collection feel like a paperback series. For the reading experience itself, the user interface of Instagram Stories provides a lot of potential challenges, but with the invention of a few design hacks, those challenges become opportunities. To get specific, one challenge was that the pages would turn themselves after 10 seconds. But the solution of the Thumb Rest gave us a simple way-finding element and let us add illustrations to every page for a more engaging reading experience. Covers could become animated, music could be introduced, pages could move, the entire highlights section could become a bookshelf. The Stories format certainly opened more creative doors than it closed.


 
 
 
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The Support

Before any of us start reading, it’s important to get comfortable and maybe grab a cup of coffee. Metaphorically, that’s also true for the Insta Novels project. Before any of the books were launched we created a tutorial to get readers acquainted with this new style of reading. It quickly walked readers through how to turn the pages and where to keep their thumb while they read. This tutorial lived as a highlight on the NYPL page in case anyone needed a refresher.

Knowing the active story would only be live for 24-hours, we also launched a teaser post with each title to let readers know they could find a new title in our highlights. These posts served as mini-movie trailers for each book to bring the audience to the title.  

 
 
 

Tutorial on how to read an Insta Novel

Teaser Post of the books to come

Teaser Post for Insta Novels

Adventures of Alice on Wonderland Announcement Post

The Raven Announcement Post

The Yellow Wallpaper Announcement Post

The Metamorphosis Announcement Post

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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The Identity

From the beginning, it was important that the Insta Novels program had its own distinct look and feel. Inspired by the NYPL parent identity, the colors of Insta Novels are spun off versions of the master brand colors chosen to look their best on Instagram.

The type also draws inspiration from the NYPL identity, mirroring the stacked type of their logo and making the whole program feel native to the library’s design language and central to the library’s mission. The Insta Novels program is helmed by Founders Grotesk. Creating cohesion between the program identity and titles on the book covers themselves.

 
 
 
 
 
 

The Music

Instagram is largely a visual medium, but to build consistency throughout the program, music has been an incredibly important tool. Instead of settling for something from a stockhouse, we worked with a composer to create a track where each and every sound is created by books. It’s a subtle detail. It may even go unnoticed. But, the sound of books bring us to a place outside of Instagram subconsciously, making a little more space for reading in our lives. Honestly, if it were possible, we would have made everything smell like books too.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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The Response

So far, the coverage of the program has exceeded our expectations. (We’re hoping that means this is an initiative the world has been looking for). But, more than the amount of conversation, is the quality of conversation. From the New York Times declaring, “Instagram is the new home of feminist literature,” to the thousands of people having in depth discussions about these titles, we’re hoping Insta Novels will be a platform to get more people talking about great literature for some time to come.

Instagram itself has contributed to that hope. They reached out in the days after the campaign launched and we’re discussing ways to make the platform better suited to long form reading.

 
 
 

Selected Press Articles

Selected Instagram comments

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